A Dame and a double-medal cycling hero led Kiwi wāhine to a great start at the Commonwealth Games; LockerRoom wraps up the action on Day One in Birmingham.
Performances of the day
A couple of days ago, Ellesse Andrews could not have foreseen winning two medals on the opening day of these Commonwealth Games.
Called in at the 11th hour to help the 4000m team pursuit trio – who lost Ally Wollaston to a crash in the Tour de France Femmes – Andrews did the bare necessities to help the sprinters get beyond the start-line, and ride on to silver.
Sprint specialist Andrews didn’t make it onto the podium, though – rushing off to prepare for her original event, the team sprint. And 90 minutes later, she helped New Zealand to win gold.
It would be the third gold medal New Zealand collected on Day One – along with the men’s team pursuit at the track and Dame Sophie Pascoe’s emotional gold at the pool.
Andrews, who won silver at last year’s Tokyo Olympics, had been an endurance rider before switching to sprinting, so she was happy to fill in for the pursuit team simply to make up the required starting number of four.
She barely made it 200m along the track in the final, before pulling off the back and leaving Bryony Botha, Emily Shearman and Michaela Drummond to fight it out with favourites, Australia. With the Kiwis one rider down, the Australians were too strong, breaking the Commonwealth Games record they set in qualifying and leaving the New Zealand trio more than 5s in their wake.
But the New Zealand team sprint trio – Andrews, Rebecca Petch and Olivia King – were too quick for Canada in their gold medal race, breaking the Games record they’d set in qualifying. It was a special moment for Petch, the Olympic BMX rider who only switched to track cycling less than a year ago.
New Zealand ended up with four medals at the velodrome (including a men’s team sprint bronze), in the nation’s impressive first-day haul of seven medals.
Dame Sophie Pascoe had her beloved late nana with her for the last 10m as she won gold in the 100m freestyle S9 this morning. “This is for her as well,” she said in tears after winning the fifth Commonwealth Games gold in her career.
Pascoe had an incredibly tough final build-up to these Games – catching Covid a month ago, and losing her grandmother, Yvonne, just a fortnight ago. The pair had a strong bond and Pascoe called her nana her “biggest supporter”.
This was Pascoe’s only event at these Games – and it was by no means easy. “I was burning in the lungs in the last 20 [metres] and still trying to catch up now,” she told Sky Sport, after beating Australian Emily Beecroft by 0.79s. Fellow Kiwi Tupou Neuifi was eighth in the final. (And also at the pool, a proud Jesse Reynolds won silver in the men’s S9 100m backstroke – his first medal at a pinnacle Para swimming event).
It’s mindboggling to think Pascoe, our greatest Paralympian, has never lost a final at the Commonwealth Games. And this gold – her first in front of her fiancé, Rob Samson – could have been her swimming swansong.
“I don’t know what’s next for me after this – whether I continue or not. So if that’s the way I ended my career, then awesome. and if not, then bring on Paris.” Yes, Paris 2024 would be her fifth Paralympic Games.
Quote of the day
“We started today not knowing what we could do, we only had three riders. We had no idea that at the end of the day, we would be on the second step of the podium,” Bryony Botha after New Zealand’s silver medal in the team pursuit.
Team pursuit silver medallists on the podium (from left) Emily Shearman, Bryony Botha and Michaela Drummond
The good news
The Silver Ferns started off their redemption campaign with a strong showing against Northern Ireland, coming away 79-20 victors. Coach Dame Noeline Taurua trialled different combinations each quarter and all 12 players played at least one half of netball, with no-one playing a full game – the team load-managing for a busy schedule.
New Zealand had a high 93 attempts at goal, with three of their four shooters finishing in the 90 percent range for accuracy, while Northern Ireland struggled to find the hoop. Kate Heffernan made her international debut in the midcourt to become Silver Fern #182.
The Black Sticks were able to test their scoring skills against the hapless Kenyan hockey side in their 16-0 first-up win. The world No.8 nation v No.35 was always going to be lopsided, but the Kiwis used the opportunity to score every kind of goal they could – five from penalty corners, one from a penalty stroke, and 10 from the field. Hat-tricks came to Olivia Shannon and Alia Jaques, who had her hand in a lot of creative play.
Swimmer Erika Fairweather was rapt to record a personal best time (1m 57.08s) to finish fifth in the women’s 200m freestyle final behind unsurprising winner, Australian Ariarne Titmus. The Dunedin Olympian joked she was disappointed not to duck under the 1.57m mark, but she’s excited she still has her favourite event, the 400m free, to come at the end of the week. In her first Games, Mya Rasmussen made the final of the 400m individual medley, finishing seventh also in a career-best time.
Six from six for Black Ferns Sevens star Michaela Blyde.
For first-day highlights, how about Michaela Blyde’s astounding six tries in the Black Ferns’ 60-0 win over Sri Lanka – the most tries scored by a New Zealand sevens player in a single Commonwealth Games match.
It was the second massive win for the Sevens Sisters, after beating Canada, 45-7, to open their account. But they can expect a much tougher encounter in their final pool play match against England tonight. And there was some not-so-good news for Black Ferns too…
The not-so-good news
The sight of scoring machine Portia Woodman, sporting stunning purple braids, being helped from the field early in the Sevens Sisters’ opening game, had Kiwi hearts in their throats. Woodman had scored the first try before landing badly after contesting a high ball. The diagnosis is an ankle sprain, but it’s not yet clear how serious it is, and whether she will play again in Birmingham.
The Kiwi women had a disappointing start to their triathlon campaign – Ainsley Thorpe ruled out of the individual race with Covid, and Nicole van der Kaay penalised in the swim-bike transition, eventually finishing ninth – two minutes behind winner Flora Duffy. The back-to-back gold medallist was wrapped in the Bermudan flag, being photographed at the finish-line, by the time Andrea Hansen crossed in 18th. They’ll now be turning their attention to the mixed relay on Monday morning, alongside Hayden Wilde – who won a stunning, but controversial, silver in the men’s triathlon to open the New Zealand team’s medal account.
Hockeyroos star Rosie Malone got in hot water after posting a TikTok video of her Aussie team-mates spying on a shirtless male athlete in the village. It had over two million views before Malone took the post down. After getting some stick on social, Malone wrote: “Don’t worry everyone, he was looking at us smiling. He could see us and was loving it.”
Watch out for 14-year-old India squash protégé, Anahat Singh, to make her mark at these Games. The Delhi schoolgirl (pictured above) already has over 50 titles to her name, and dominated in her opening three-set victory over Jada Ross of St Vincent and the Grenadines. Singh is two decades younger than her doubles partner, too.
After winning silver on Day One, watch out for Bryony Botha in 3000m individual pursuit tonight, says two-time Commonwealth Games athlete and LockerRoom writer, Sarah Cowley-Ross. Botha is an engine in the New Zealand endurance programme and determined to prove herself in an event no longer on the Olympic schedule. And the White Ferns will be fizzing for cricket’s T20 debut – watch for heavy hitters Sophie Devine, Suzie Bates and Amelia Kerr to star in the shorter game against South Africa at 10pm.
On Sunday morning, Olympic BMX rider turned track cyclist Comm Games medallist, Rebecca Petch, will be looking for a sub 34s ride in the 500m time trial. And after a strong start in Birmingham, can the Black Ferns repeat their incredible final feat of the Gold Coast four years ago and win gold in the sevens?
Look out for Nicole van der Kaay and Andrea Hansen in the mixed teams triathlon early Monday morning. Hansen’s phenomenal career at the Games began in Melbourne 2006 with a bronze in the individual triathlon and collected team bronze with van der Kaay at Gold Coast 2018. Now with daughter Flossie (16 months) in tow, she’ll be aiming for a sharp leg for the team.
Who’s up next
SATURDAY JULY 30
CYCLING: Ellesse Andrews, Olivia King, Rebecca Petch, track sprint qualifying, 9pm
RUGBY SEVENS: Black Ferns Sevens vs England, 9.05pm
CRICKET: White Ferns vs South Africa, 10pm
SWIMMING: Hazel Vanessa Ouwehand, 100m backstroke, 10.15pm
SUNDAY JULY 31
BOXING: Ariane Nicholson, boxing (70kg), 12am
BASKETBALL: 3×3 Tall Ferns vs England, 4.35am; vs Canada, 6.55am
BEACH VOLLEYBALL: New Zealand vs Kenya, 6am
RUGBY SEVENS: Black Ferns Sevens, semifinal, 6.40am/7am
NETBALL: Silver Ferns vs Uganda, 7am
HOCKEY: Black Sticks vs Scotland, 8am
SQUASH: Joelle King, Kaitlyn Watts, women’s singles, 11pm
MONDAY AUGUST 1
TRIATHLON: Mixed relay, 1.30am
CYCLING: Track points race, 2.50am
CYCLING: Track 500m time trial, 3.30am
SWIMMING: Tupou Neiufi, 100m backstroke S8 final, 6.35am
RUGBY SEVENS: Black Ferns Sevens, bronze medal match 6.50am/gold medal match 7.35am
BASKETBALL: 3×3 Tall Ferns vs British Virgin Islands, 6.55am